James Richard Perry, who left office in 2015, is the longest-serving governor in Texas' history. On December 14, 2016, Donald Trump's transition team confirmed earlier reports that Perry, 66, had been tapped to run an agency he once forgot – in a televised debate – that he wanted to scrap: the Department of Energy (DOE).
The DOE devotes the majority of its funding to safeguarding the country's nuclear arsenal. It is also responsible for efforts to limit nuclear proliferation, such as the deal with Iran, which Perry said in 2015 "jeopardizes the safety and security of the free world." Trump has caused anxiety with comments regarding nuclear weapons policy: "Let it be an arms race," he reportedly told an MSNBC host off-air on December 23. A January 18 New York Times story suggested that Perry was unaware of the DOE's focus on nuclear policy, but Perry's statement accepting the nomination on December 14 – which mentions that role – calls the claim into question.
There have been suggestions that the Trump-era DOE could be shaped by an ideological aversion to climate science. In a December 9 memo submitted to the agency, Trump's transition team asked for the names of employees who had attended any meetings of the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon, in which 11 Obama administration agencies collaborated to estimate the economic damage likely to arise from climate change. The memo also requested a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings." (See also: What do Trump's Cabinet Picks Mean for Energy Sector Stocks?)
Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for the DOE, told the New York Times that the department had refused the request. "Some of the questions asked left many in our work force unsettled," he wrote, adding, "We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team."
Perry's Tenure as Texas Governor
In 2000, when he was lieutenant governor, he took over for president-elect George W. Bush, but he went on to win elections in his own right in 2002, 2006 and 2010. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2011-2012, but dropped out in January, telling the audience of a televised Republican primary debate that he would abolish three government departments as president: "Commerce, Education and … oops." (The agency he forgot was the DOE.) He repeated his bid in 2015, but only made it to September.
Texas is by far the nation's largest oil producer, pumping 95 million barrels of crude in September, according to the DOE's Energy Information Administration, more than triple the output of runner-up North Dakota. Overseeing energy production – from oil and other sources, such as Texas' other forte, wind – is not the agency's only concern. The majority of its funding goes to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which focuses on developing and maintaining the country's nuclear arsenal. (See also: The Texas Oil Economy.)
During the Obama administration, the DOE took on a significant role in fighting climate change, including through research into clean energy technology. In 2010 Perry called the scientific consensus that humans have caused climate change a "contrived, phony mess."
On the other hand, Perry's record as governor shows an openness in practice, if not rhetoric, to renewable energy. "He created an environment conducive to economic investment through robust infrastructure and competitive power markets that allowed new technologies to enter," Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, a lobbying group, told Science in December. (See also: Canary in the Coal Mine: Trump's Energy Plan.)
Perry joined the board of Energy Transfer Partners L.P. (ETP) in February 2015. The company is developing the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that has met with months of protests from residents of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and outside supporters. The Army Corps of Engineers denied a key permit to the pipeline's developers on December 4, a decision that Republican lawmakers cast as politically motivated. Perry resigned from the board in early January. Trump signed an executive order on January 24 expediting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.